Masdar City: Perhaps no other similar undertaking in the world better demonstrates how technological innovation in green design and construction is becoming an increasingly common practice throughout the world and why Americans should begin paying closer attention to it.
The community, which is being built in the Persian Gulf city-state of Abu Dhabi, will purportedly function as the world's first zero-carbon city — free of cars and skyscrapers and powered by the sun.
Upon completion, the city is expected to serve as the home of some 50,000 people and at least 1,000 businesses and a university.
The biggest solar farm in the Middle East has been built to power Masdar City — an energy source that will also compensate for the diesel and baking of cement required in construction.
Unlike the sprawling cities of Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is patterned after earlier compact Arab cities.
Narrow streets allow for closer clustering of buildings, which enhances shading. The walls and roofs are also constructed to shed heat.
To encourage breezes, a wind tower will be built to draw draughts through city streets without using energy. The tower will be equipped with a beacon portraying the city's actual energy use: red for too much, blue for just right.
While some electricity will be used for gadgets and for desalinization, the general rule will be to use energy only when design is exhausted.
Conventional cars will have to be checked in at the city gates. Street-level areas will be pedestrian only, though driverless, solar-powered pod cars guided by magnetic sensors will also be available.
Designed by British architects Foster and Partners, Masdar City will be walled to remain compact and also to prevent urban sprawl.
Designers have considered setting up a circular array of ground-based mirrors to focus light on a tower n the center. The tower would direct a one-meter wide concentrated beam of light to a system that collects the heat to drive generators. They have also considered using foil coverings to keep out heat.
The New York Times reported March 17 that budgetary constraints may result in the scaling back of some plans. For example, the pod car transportation may be limited only to the site of the planned research institute.
The project is also considering importing power from elsewhere rather than generating energy on-site from renewable sources.
Masdar City is one of several attempts around the world to provide high-tech, green-oriented solutions to rapid population growth and the increased carbon footprints that accompany this growth. Writing March 29 in the Guardian, Justin McGuirk, editor of Icon, the international architecture and design magazine, observes that by 2050, three quarters of humanity are expected to live in urban locales.
There's a lot of us heading for the bright lights. But here's the scary part: most of this growth is happening in places where millions of people already live in slums. Mumbia, Delhi, Karachi, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Kinsha: these are the fast-growing cities in the world, most of them designed to have populations of more than 20 million by 2025. Between now and then, Lagos will have to make room for 67 new arrivals per hour. If we don't start designing for these new inhabitants now, then the potential for human misery is all the greater.
In recent years, McGuirk says cities are increasingly viewed as a product.
"These days a client can order a new metropolis simply by picking up the phone to a famous architect," McGuirk says.
As it turns out, Masdar is one of a growing number of such proposed designer cities around the planet, which also includes Dongtan, designed by London-based engineers Arup, though currently delayed, and Tianjin.
"With China expecting 300 million new urban dwellers in the next 20 years, it has no choice but to adopt the build-it-and-they-will-come approach," McGuirk writes.
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